Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, VT, can operate past a March 21 state-mandated shut down date, a U.S. District Court judge ruled.

In the decision handed down Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha struck down several state laws, one of which (Act 160) prohibits Entergy, a Louisiana-based corporation, from running the aging nuclear plant beyond its current 40-year license without legislative approval. The other (Act 74) requires Entergy to obtain permission from the General Assembly to store high level nuclear waste at the site.

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In February 2010, the state Senate voted to deny Entergy an opportunity to seek a 20-year renewal of its license to operate Vermont Yankee from the Public Service Board.

Murtha wrote the Atomic Energy Act preempts Vermont law. Consequently, the state cannot bring an enforcement action against Entergy, he said.

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“Plaintiffs have demonstrated they would be irreparably harmed by Vermont Yankee’s closure under preempted laws if Defendants enforced Act 160, or the preempted provision in Act 74, or if Defendants conditioned approval of a petition for continued operation on the existence of a below-market power purchase agreement with Vermont utilities,” Murtha said.

The Vermont Public Service Board will now decide whether to issue a certificate of public good to Entergy that would allow the plant to continue operation for an additional 20 years.

Entergy filed a lawsuit against the State of Vermont in April last year, a month after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extended Vermont Yankee’s operating license for another 20 years in March 2011.

Entergy attorneys argued nuclear safety was the motivation for the Vermont Senate’s 2010 vote.

Entergy also claimed the Vermont Legislature regulated the plant on nuclear safety grounds through a careful and planned use of “code words.” Legislators substituted words and phrases like “economics,” “reliability,” and “public safety” to circumvent the NRC’s authority over all things nuclear safety, Entergy’s lead attorney Kathleen Sullivan told Murtha during the trial last fall.

The state’s attorneys said officials in Vermont had a deep mistrust of Entergy and misstatements by employees about the existence of underground pipes that leaked tritium into groundwater.

The Vermont Attorney General also cited failed negotiations over a power purchase agreement and over plans for an energy future founded on renewable-energy sources.

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